For newly divorced parents, it’s not too early to start holiday planning

That familiar nip is in the air, football is in full swing, and kids everywhere are busy trying to decide what they’re going to be for Halloween. Before we know it, we’ll be toasting in the New Year.

For families going through their first post-divorce holiday season, it may seem premature to start planning now, but it’s never too soon to begin adjusting expectations, finding new traditions, and paving the way for a smooth-if not altogether perfect-holiday season.

Young children, in particular, may have trouble adjusting to a bifurcated holiday season, with individual celebrations at both parents’ houses. To address that, some couples may even decide to celebrate special events-Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas morning, for example-together. And, certainly, if there’s not too much conflict between the former spouses, it may be a good idea, for now.

It’s probably not an ideal solution for the long-term, particularly if either spouse has or is planning to remarry, but it may help to ease the children’s transition for the first year. The parents should make sure the kids know, however, that mommy and daddy aren’t getting back together.

Clearly, this is one of those ideas to be taken on a case-by-case basis because although it may work fine for one family, it may be disastrous for another.

Some other ideas and aspirational goals for post-divorce, pre-holiday planning:

  • Talk about gifts and costs. Don’t let gifts for the kids become an escalating arms race. Both parents should agree on a spending limit and discuss who’s paying for what. Chances are the family budget is tight because of the legal proceedings, so parents should be realistic about what kind of holiday they can afford and not make a stressful time even more stressful.
  • Establish new traditions. Even something as simple as lighting a fire and watching a movie together can become a cherished tradition if it’s done with love. Parents are often surprised by what their kids remember and look forward to, so as long as the family is in transition mode, smooth the way with some new, simple traditions.
  • Keep some old traditions, if possible. It’s probably unrealistic to keep all the family traditions, but if there are some that can be maintained, try to preserve them. Ritual and tradition can tether us to our past and lend children-and adults-a sense of predictability and safety. The holidays offer parents a chance to reinforce the fact that, even if mom and dad aren’t together, the children are still loved.
  • Cut some slack. Spouses should always work to maintain civil relations with their exes, but that is rarely more important than during the holidays. Understand that your ex may feel extra lonely at the holidays, and a few extra hours with the kids may pay off down the road.

Holidays can be stressful even under ideal circumstances. Adding a recent divorce into the mix only compounds that stress. Newly divorced couples should take care to adjust their expectations and keep the season as simple as possible.